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Friday, 01 January 2021

South Africa's Artists, Craftspeople, History and Unique Culture - Page 3

Written by Russ and Emily Firlik
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Our destination was the rural village of Hlabisa, named after the Hlabisa tribe of Zulus, to visit the Zulu basket makers who live and work there. We were very attentive as we observed their unique skills and techniques and use of the raw materials to make the beautiful woven baskets that are admired around the world. We learned that the baskets could be made out of IIala palm, sisal leaves, boiling roots, bark or other organic materials of the indigenous flora. They obtain certain colors by dying natural materials. The main technique used by the weavers was to dry the strips of bark to obtain a waxy texture and layer them for a smoother feeling and easier weaving. The beautiful baskets are enjoyed around the world because of their unique designs and Zulu symbols such as a series of diamond shapes, triangle patterns, checkerboards and zig-zag, all representing a deep and important meaning in their culture. Absolutely one of the highlights of our learning quest.

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Our guide told us that a trip to Africa would not be complete if we did not partake in a drive in the game reserve. Not high on our list of discoveries, nevertheless, we took his advice and drove through the reserve. He explained the ‘Big Five’ animals that tourists want to see (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo). However, we did not see a lion, leopard, or buffalo, but did spot several elephants, with their calves, a couple of giraffes and zebras. We were delighted to observe the many species of birds and other smaller animals. We did enjoy this “must see” diversion, and appreciated our guide’s insistence to view these remarkable animals and birds.

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Our destination was to the town of St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park along the Indian Ocean coastline. ISimangaliso is the Zulu name, which means ‘marvel,’ and is recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The incredible diversity of animal and plant species, all in their pristine natural environment. Our guide took us up the estuary waters and islands to see the hippos, crocodiles, and the prolific bird life. Along the way we view the large vegetated sand mounds and mangrove swamps. Our specialist guide enhanced our knowledge and appreciation for this beautiful and organic ecosystem.


We continued our quest to learn about the finely woven Zulu baskets, how they were made and to appreciate the efforts of their craft. A full-stop at a rural open air market that displayed all types of local hand crafted goods and tropical fruit. Within this region was where we observed a variety of traditional Zulu homes and cultural dress.

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We continued our journey deep into the heart of Zululand to Simunye, a secluded lodge, hung in a valley overlooking the Mfule River. For the next two days our accommodations would be at the Simunye Lodge, where each room was individually crafted by a local Zulu family, and they were our gracious, caring and attentive hosts.


With our guide, we drove back to Durban along the coast passing the Tugela River, where there were massive fields of sugarcane and the idyllic lengthy golden beaches. After a delicious lunch we traveled to the outer west area of Durban as we had arranged an appointment to meet the internationally recognized sculptor, Carl Roberts, at his studio. Carl was born in England, but later on he moved to South Africa to live near his grandparents. We gained first-hand insight and knowledge into his creative process, working methods and specialized techniques that transformed wood, stone, bronze and bone into intriguing and very beautiful sculptures. We were very grateful to Mr. Roberts for the opportunity to meet and watch a great master sculptor.


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Last modified on Friday, 01 January 2021

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